Training boss gets tough on jargon

Ian Nash

Ian Nash talks to Gordon Beaumont, the man with a mission to improve job training programmes. The man charged with assessing the effectiveness of Britain's job-training programmes has pledged to axe bureaucracy and transform jargon-ridden language into plain English.

Gordon Beaumont was appointed by ministers this summer to head a 16-member team in what is reckoned to be the most detailed scrutiny ever of national vocational qualifications and Scottish vocational qualifications.

While he has found "widespread support" for the concept of NVQs and SVQs, there was also "much criticism" of their implementation. His biggest concern was over the complex language which alienated people.

"The language needs simplifying. That is one very clear message so far, and whatever else comes out of Evaluation Advisory Group's research, I feel a need to do something about it."

An interim report from the group went to ministers this week following a trawl of all available literature on vocational qualifications and 30 visits to industry. The main focus of the work, however, is a call for evidence on the worth of Britain's 100 most frequently-used vocational qualifications. It asks whether training is broad enough, cost-effective and adequate for the needs of industry and individual trainees.

Mr Beaumont insists the advisory group is independent of government and groups with vested interests. But he admits that he is "at one" with Prime Minister John Major on the need for more rigorous assessment. "At present, I cannot say we have a robust product."

Mr Major, in his speech to the Grant-Maintained Schools Foundation in Birmingham two weeks ago, vowed to "reverse the country's historic weaknesses" in vocational education.

This would be done, he said, "not by glossing over the problems", but by rooting them out and setting up high-quality courses, with more rigorous testing and external marking.

Competence tests for trainees on NVQs and SVQs have been constantly attacked for alleged lack of rigour, poor assessment standards and failure to boost performance.

Mr Beaumont said Mr Major's comments should not be too readily seen as a return to traditional exams. "It may be for some things that written assessment is the answer. But there are a range of other options. Projects are a useful way of assessing and I am attracted to them."

He said it was still too early to draw conclusions about the work but there were already some excellent examples which could serve as models of good practice.

He was also in no doubt that many of the developments for vocational qualifications had benefited thousands let down by the traditional education and training system.

He said: "On my visits people tell me they look forward to learning and training, to going on to the next unit of work without the pressures of exams."

The advisory group has drafted a 24-question survey to test views on the methods of competence testing used in NVQs and SVQs, the breadth of training offered, the levels of knowledge and understanding reached by trainees, the quality and effectiveness of courses and a range of issues such as the levels of funding by government and industry.

Responses are invited from a wide range of organisations and individuals throughout education, training and industry, by October 31.

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